The Oregon Board of Forestry voted 4-3 Thursday to add logging restrictions along streams in the western part of the state.
After a failed vote of 3-4 on a less restrictive proposal, the board elected to more than double the stream-side shade requirements under the Forest Practices Act to protect cold water for fish. The rules bring Oregon closer in line with logging policies meant to keep streams cool in the neighboring state of Washington.
The new rules increase the size of the restricted areas along small and medium fish-bearing streams. They’re estimated to affect between 15,000 and 30,000 acres of forestland altogether.
On small streams they require a 60-foot buffer on both sides of small streams where logging is either not allowed at all or is restricted. That buffer is 80 feet on both sides of medium streams.
Many Oregon streams have been found to be too warm to comply with the cold water standard under the Clean Water Act, which limits how much human activity is allowed to raise the temperature of the water in streams.
Board member Cindy Williams, who has worked as a fish biologist, choked back tears while discussing fish population declines and urged the board to take stronger action to improve fish habitat.
“What we’ve been doing hasn’t been working,” she said. “It’s been a long, slow bleed and we’re continuing to bleed despite the fact that we have improved forest practices. Now is the time to not be timid or we’re not likely to retain much more than a zoo population of salmon and steelhead.”
Forest landowners said the decision would reduce their income while conservationists said they were hoping for more restrictions.
Dick Courter owns forestland in Columbia County that’s been in his wife’s family since the 1940s. He said he was stunned to hear the board’s final decision, which was more restrictive than one of the options board members had been considering.
”It’s going to affect me fairly severely,” he said. “This land has been an early retirement account for me and my wife and I don’t know how to tell her when I get back that part of it’s been taken away from us.”
Bob Van Dyk of the Wild Salmon Center said the new rules aren’t likely to get streams to the point of meeting the cold water temperature standard, but they are an improvement.
“It’s a significant step in the right direction,” he said. “The current rules lead to significant warming on small and medium streams well in excess of the limits allowed under the Clean Water Act.”
Washington made changes to its forest practice rules back in 2000 and even with these new rules Oregon still won’t measure up to Washington, Van Dyk said.
“We’re still far below Washington standards – even after this step,” he said.
Oregon State Forester Doug Decker said the decision was a tough one and was bound to disappoint people on both sides.
“It’s a very delicate balancing act to on one hand address the protecting cold water standard but also not put landowners out of business and allow for investments on these lands in the future,” he said.
The rules exclude the Siskiyou region in Southern Oregon and allow lesser restrictions for landowners with more than 10 percent of their land affected.